Props: Elizabethan helmet

Our next and final play this year will be Much Ado About Nothing – particularly suitable as I’m the official illustrator for Portsmouth University’s ‘Much Ado About Portsmouth’ festival to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th deathday! 

As we’re building up our own Wardrobe dept at school, I’m trying to make as many re-usable costumes for the Outdoor Shakespeares that have become our end-of-year tradition. We have a really good stock of Elizabethan-style shirts, pantaloons, and a few gorgeous dresses that were originally standard fancy-dress fare until I modified them. 

Having learned to sew so that I could make costumes for the last show, I thought I’d have a go at another skill, so have tried my hand at armour from Craft Foam.

The type of helmet I wanted to make I had a clear idea about. It’s for Dogberry, who is so innocent and wide-eyed in our performance I wanted to give the actor a fun prop that would add to the character. A slightly-too-big pikeman’s helmet with an oversized fin, that, if possible, will keep tipping forward.

   
 
The basic frame was actually very easy to make (and as I did it on a whim during the second read-through of course I forgot to photograph it in progress) but if you fancy imagining it, here goes: take a piece of A3 craft foam and bend in half to two A4 pieces. Holding the two sides closed, it luckily fit the actor’s head. I cut a curve to  match the shape of the helmet, then used pieces of masking tape to hold the shape together along the curve. I tried it on the actor and cut along the base to create a higher ‘peak’ at the front, like the helmet in the picture.

The fin was then modelled from another piece of A4 foam: I drew around the shape of the helmet where I wanted it to come out from, then drew a tall fin from that line. I left a 1cm margin at the bottom, which I snipped into tabs. I slit the masking tape along the very top of the helmet and slotted the fin in, bending the tabs side to side inside the helmet and taping them down.

The brim of the helmet was easier than I expected. Again, I drew round the helmet, the base this time (stretched out to the circumference of the headband) and then drew a 4cm brim around it, culminating in a point at the front and back. I then simply used masking tape strips to hold it on. Had I had a glue gun with me I think I could have used that instead, but like I said, this was a whim during rehearsal.

TA-DAH:

   
  Ok, imagination over. When I got home, I missed up my normal PVA glue mix (1 part PVA to two parts water) and sloshed it onto the foam before layering kitchen paper over it (my last rolls of Star Wars) and adding more mix. Making sure the paper overlapped and went under the brim into the helmet’s insides, I left it to dry out near the radiator, making sure to keep the sides held apart to keep the shape in case of shrinkage.

  As with all my kitchen-paper projects, the final finish was pretty rough. However, as this needed to look like metal, I tore up some smooth magazine paper (the Vogue edit from last Spring, in fact) and soaked it in mix before applying it in small pieces and stroking it down. It ended up being nice and smooth – and very tasteful 😉  

   
  At work, I gave it a coat of silver spray paint. The PVA seals the paper and foam so it doesn’t drink up the paint. So now it was lovely and shiny, and very boringly silver.

   

 Back at home, I used some Silicone Glue to add details: ‘welding’ at the join of the fin and round the edge of the brim, and a couple of ‘rivets’ in the sides. (Seen below with the Beauty and the Beast mirror)

   
Finally, after a day of drying, the silicone was ready to paint.  I used a dull silver Acrylic paint to go over the silicone, and also dry-brushed it over the rest of the helmet. Once that was dry, I brushed a medium-wet mix of black and green into the crevices, along the silicone ‘weld’, and around the rivets. I brushed off the excess with water and paper towel. Then, taking a dry brush of the black-green mix, I brushed roughly over the rest of the helmet and inside the brim, before rubbing off with paper towel again. This really brought out the battered texture I wanted, and made the helmet look pleasingly old.  
  
It just needed something more: a bit more age.

Adding a blob of bronze Acrylic to a blob of burnt umber and mixing with a fair bit of water, I washed this with a dry brush all over the helmet in stages, buffing most of if off straight away afterwards with a piece of kitchen roll.

ET VOILA.  Pics of it in use later in the year.

  

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